Large-Scale Ocean-Atmosphere Interactions in a Simplified Coupled Model of the Midlatitude Wintertime Circulation

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  • 1 Climate Research Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and California Space Institute, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California
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Abstract

Midlatitude ocean-atmosphere interactions are studied in simulations from a simplified coupled model that includes synoptic-scale atmospheric variability, ocean current advection of sea surface temperature (SST), and air-sea heat exchange. Although theoretical dynamical (“identical twin”) predictions using this model have shown that the SST anomalies in this model indeed influence the atmosphere, we find here that standard cross-correlation and empirical orthogonal function analyses of monthly mean model output yield the standard result, familiar from observational studies, that the atmosphere forces the ocean with little or no feedback. Therefore, these analyses are inconclusive and leave open the question of whether anomalous SST is influencing the atmosphere. In contrast, we find that compositing strong warm events of model SST is a useful indicator of ocean forcing the atmosphere. We present additional evidence for oceanic influence on the atmosphere, namely, that ocean current advection appears to enhance the persistence of model SST anomalies through a feedback effect that is absent when only heat flux is allowed to influence SST anomaly evolution. Models with more complete physics must ultimately be used to conclusively demonstrate these results.

Abstract

Midlatitude ocean-atmosphere interactions are studied in simulations from a simplified coupled model that includes synoptic-scale atmospheric variability, ocean current advection of sea surface temperature (SST), and air-sea heat exchange. Although theoretical dynamical (“identical twin”) predictions using this model have shown that the SST anomalies in this model indeed influence the atmosphere, we find here that standard cross-correlation and empirical orthogonal function analyses of monthly mean model output yield the standard result, familiar from observational studies, that the atmosphere forces the ocean with little or no feedback. Therefore, these analyses are inconclusive and leave open the question of whether anomalous SST is influencing the atmosphere. In contrast, we find that compositing strong warm events of model SST is a useful indicator of ocean forcing the atmosphere. We present additional evidence for oceanic influence on the atmosphere, namely, that ocean current advection appears to enhance the persistence of model SST anomalies through a feedback effect that is absent when only heat flux is allowed to influence SST anomaly evolution. Models with more complete physics must ultimately be used to conclusively demonstrate these results.

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